It might be difficult to imagine it right now, but the warm days of summer won’t last. But don’t worry! Extending your summer garden growing season is surprisingly easy. With a little planning you can continue to harvest tender plants like lettuces and tomatoes for several weeks, and maybe longer.
Early Frost Protection
The simplest season-extending technique is to protect the tender crops from the first occasional fall frosts. A sudden dip in temperature will do a lot more damage to plants than a gradual decline (which gradually hardens them off).
Especially frustrating to gardeners is the fact that these early frosty nights are almost always followed by several weeks of good growing weather. The good news is that the simple act of covering your tender plants for a night or two may reward you with several more weeks of harvests.
Happily you can get advance warning of an oncoming frost and act to protect your plants. Almost anything will give protection from a light frost. The point is to cover the plant and create a small air space that will stay warmer than the cold air.
• old blankets
• plastic sheeting
• row covers
• straw mulch
• cold frames
Draping old blankets or plastic sheeting is the most common way you see gardeners protecting their tender plants from a frost. Row covers using plastic sheeting and arches that are attached to the garden bed, are a somewhat more long-term solution. Just be sure to open it up from time to time to release excess moisture.
Another option is to put down a layer of straw mulch. You just make sure you put down several inches to make sure they’re covered. This has the added benefit of helping to protect the soil from erosion from heavy winter rains.
Severe Frost Protection
Cold frames and cloches can even protect plants from more severe frosts. Plastic or glass cloches can be purchased at your garden center, or you can make your own. Common household items and plastic packaging you’d otherwise put in the recycle bin are great cloches. Milk jugs with the bottoms cut out or clear plastic take-out containers. Just make sure you stake them to the ground so they don’t blow away!
A cold frame is a bit more elaborate, but it will give you more room for growing. They look like a miniature greenhouse, and are generally constructed as a small box with glass or heavy-duty plastic windows. You can build them to fit your needs, making them ideal for taller plants such as tomatoes. Once you remove the stakes, your tomato plants can be laid down on the ground for easier protection.
How Long Can You Extend?
Extending your summer garden growing season is a great idea, but for how long? Realistically, you should only try to protect your tender crops for as long as there is good growth in the daytime. It isn’t worth protecting them once the days get too cold and the sunlight hours get short, as they won’t thrive.
At that point, it is better to replace them with hardy winter crops. Or you can decide to take a break for a month or two and hibernate, and enjoy your well-earned rest. If you’ve been diligent and canned, dried, or frozen some of your earlier harvests, you can enjoy the fruits of your own labor until you’re ready to start preparing again for next year’s spring garden.